Almost every productivity expert agrees that one critical way to improve your productivity and focus is to stop taking on every new task and learn how to say, “No.” For me this has been a huge struggle and continues to be a challenge.
I am a people-pleaser and I enjoy helping others. I like to be asked to do things and I thrive on getting things done. I was always happy to take the notes in all our meetings. I would plan the holiday parties and company volunteer events. I would always stop what I was working on whenever anyone asked if I had a minute. But, I also found that I became the “go-to person” whenever anything needed to get done.
I soon realized that I was so busy doing tasks for other people that my most important tasks weren’t getting done or were slowly falling to the bottom of my list. Then, I would end up staying at work longer or staying up late to take care of the things that I needed to get done.
Finding myself in this situation a few too many times made me realize that I would have to get comfortable with saying, “No” to some of the tasks that came my way. I thoughtfully considered how I could confidently decline some tasks.
Now, before just saying, “Yes,” here are the questions I ask myself to decide which tasks I should take on and which ones I should pass on.
IS IT JUST BUSY WORK?
When asked to help with a task, I assess how I will benefit from doing it. If I find that I won’t learn anything or gain some value from doing it, I feel better about turning it down. Knowing that the task will take up my time but won’t add anything certainly makes it a bit easier.
CAN SOMEONE ELSE DO IT?
If someone else can easily handle the requested task or may even benefit from the challenge of taking it on, it’s easier for me to decline and suggest delegating that task to that person. Often, if someone can learn or gain a new skill or experience from doing a task, they will probably be happy to do it.
DOES IT EVEN NEED TO BE DONE?
Many times, we just do things, to do them. I find that if you think critically about how important the task is, you may find that it really doesn’t even need to be done. Is this a must-have or a nice-to-have? What happens if the task doesn’t get done? Or, maybe there’s just one important piece that needs attention but the rest of it can be ignored. Try to only work on the things that matter most.
TRY THIS OUT: Look over your to-do list. Are there tasks on your list that you really don’t need to be doing? How can you comfortably say, “No?” Try pushing back on the tasks that prevent you from focusing on completing your most important tasks.
After 25 years in the corporate world, working at Lotus Development, Ernst & Young, The Weather Channel and Play On! Sports, Monisha Longacre has founded her own company, Productivity101 and created priorigami: the art of productivity. Her mission is to provide simple, actionable and easy-to-use tools to help busy adults track, prioritize and complete tasks, to better manage their time and become more productive. She designed priorigami to be the "Fitbit" for productivity to help people lead more meaningful lives.